September 6, 2013
Family vacations on a budget
Travelling with kids doesn’t have to break the bank! Check out these tips from Best Western’s family travel expert on how to have a fun and budget-friendly family vacation.
By: Amy Graff
1. Look for hotel freebies when traveling. We stay at hotels that don’t nickel and dime you and offer freebies such as breakfast, Wi-Fi and parking.
2. Find free entertainment. We look for free activities, including hiking and visiting attractions during discounted or free days. We also stay at hotels with pools for free entertainment. Ninety percent of Best Western hotels have pools.
3. Leave at the right time. If your children nap, depart for your road trip just before they're ready to fall asleep, and you might buy yourself a few hours of bliss in the car. This can also work on long flights, especially red eyes.
4. Leave the SUV at home and lighten your load. We drive an economy car that gets great gas mileage and we pack light. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent.
5. Think about food costs. We have lots of picnics. We order a pizza or pick up some sandwiches and take them to a park. At restaurants where entrees are huge, we order one for two people to split. We also drink only water from our reusable water bottles. No bottled water for this family.
6. Make your kids carry their own luggage. Even a 4-year-old can roll a small suitcase on wheels through an airport. There's no reason that mom and dad should have to schlep their little one's stuff. You'll save your back and teach your kids some responsibility.
7. Load up on money-saving apps. The “CheapGas” app for smartphones advises you when you’re close to low-priced gas stations. The AAA mobile app can also let you know if there are any discounts that you are eligible for.
8. Ditch the electronics. During our family vacations, we ditch the DVD player, video games and electronics. We focus on spending time together as a family. The kids read, draw and experience the trip for entertainment. We listen to Books on Tape in the car.
9. Buy travel journals. Your kids can fill them with postcards, ticket stubs, and brochures, and they can keep themselves busy writing down their memories from the trip.
10. Find time to run around. If you're on a road trip, stop every two hours, even if it's to just let the kids chase each other around the car. Plane delayed? Nearly every airport has a children's play area--go find it.
When traveling for the holidays, Amy also offers the following tips to make the journey jolly and budget friendly.
- Save money by traveling on a holiday. Flights cost less on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Additionally, airports tend to be less crowded and you can get great service.
- Book your travel early for better rates. You are probably going to get the best rate booking eight to 10 weeks in advance.
- Book online to save money. Between Sept. 16 and Nov. 24, guests worldwide can save up to 20 percent off the Best Available Rate when they book hotels online at www.bestwestern.com.
- Maximize your rewards. The holidays are a great time to cash in your rewards, and not just for travel. A Best Western 2011 survey found that more than half of Americans are casual users of their loyalty programs, only checking their points a few times a year and rarely cashing in their points. Points can be a great way to buy all your holiday gifts, with loyalty programs now offering everything from kitchen appliances and golf accessories, to gift cards for major retailers and restaurants.
- Pack your patience. Whether on the road, at the airport or even the train station, more people means more congestion, which means you are likely waiting longer than normal. A good book, playlist or simply packing your iPad may keep your nerves in check.
- Lose the layovers. Though direct flights might not be a budget saver, they can be a hassle saver. Avoid stopovers, especially in airports such as Denver, Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis where weather delays are common. If a connection is necessary, fly through a Southern hub such as Dallas, Charlotte, or Phoenix, where you can at least eliminate the possibility of weather being a problem.